Woman driven to death by ‘gaslighting’
IN just five months, Kellie Sutton went from a fun, bubbly person to someone whose spirit was so broken she felt death was the only way out.
The mum-of-three, 30, was driven to kill herself after suffering physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her bullying boyfriend Steven Gane, 31.
Last week, in a landmark case, Gane, a former soldier, was found guilty of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate relationship.
It is believed to be the first time a conviction for the offence has been secured after the death of a victim.
Gane, who was also found guilty of actual bodily harm and assault, was jailed for four years and three months.
Judge Philip Grey told him: "Your behaviour drove Kellie Sutton to [kill] herself that morning.
"You beat her and ground her down and broke her spirits."
Police hailed the sentence as a "milestone" in the use of new coercive and controlling legislation, a concept only criminalised in 2015.
Coercive control is when someone makes a victim feel dependent, isolated or scared.
It is also known as "gaslighting" from the 1944 film Gaslight, in which a killer tries to make his wife think she is going mad.
In court, family and friends described Kellie as "bubbly and independent" when she first started going out with Gane in March 2017.
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But during their five-month romance she became quiet, anxious and isolated. She took her own life last August.
Messages she had sent to Gane and friends were read out during the two-week trial at St Albans Crown Court.
In one she told him: "I'm fed up of this s**t prisoner life."
In another she claimed: "All you are going to do is moan and beat me all afternoon."
She texted one friend: "Don't come over today. Steve wants to do something - apparently punch my head in like he said.
"He is not happy I've invited you over.
"So now I've gotta pay the consequences. It's OK, I'm used to it now."
The court also heard Gane checked her underwear to make sure she was not cheating and kept her bank card.
Once he choked her because she'd gone out without telling him. Another time he split her head open.
Kellie's mum Pamela Taylor, 53, told The Sun: "Having to listen in court to what she went through was harrowing. He is pure evil.
"We were close but Kellie never told me anything was wrong.
"I know why - she didn't want to upset me.
"And whenever I was with them he was fine.
"To me, they were like a normal couple."
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Kellie, who has children aged 14, 11, and four, from previous relationships, had been single for two years when she met Gane in a pub near her home in Welwyn Garden City, Herts.
Her friend Alexia Spathas, 30, took an instant dislike to Gane.
Alexia, a hairdresser, said: "She was a single mum with three kids and he must have sensed she was vulnerable.
"He moved in within weeks and started doing things around the house and buying things to make her feel like she relied on him.
"I told her to stay away from him because he seemed controlling."
But Pamela, a retired warehouse worker, was pleased for her daughter.
She said: "I was happy she had someone in her life."
Mum and daughter lived down the road from each other and used to speak every day.
She said: "I'd go round for a cup of tea and a natter after the school run.
"She used to text me all the time. We'd chat about East Enders.
"Before he came along we were together all the time."
But Pamela, who split up from Kellie's dad Ian in 2001, saw less of her daughter as the relationship went on.
Kellie admitted Gane could be "moody" and was sometimes jealous.
She said: "She told me he accused her of being unfaithful. But Kellie wasn't like that ...
"He seemed to want to take her away from her family."
Kellie, who had studied beauty therapy, suddenly stopped wearing make-up and jewellery.
Pamela said: "I'd ask if she was OK and she'd say, 'I'm fine, don't worry, Mumzy'. That's what she called me. She didn't like to worry anyone."
Pamela believes the abuse escalated when two of Kellie's children went to stay with the youngest child's dad.
On June 3, Kellie was due to go to Bournemouth to visit her middle child, who lives with her paternal grandparents, when Gane attacked her.
Medical records show she went to an urgent care centre in St Albans needing treatment for a 3cm gash to her head.
Pamela said: "She told us they were play-fighting and she banged her head. Now I wonder if it was to stop her going away."
A month later the police were called to Kellie's home after neighbours reported hearing the couple arguing.
She texted a friend to say she had tried to end the relationship.
Then in August, Kellie was found unconscious at home by Gane.
Paramedics got her heart beating but she never regained consciousness.
Three days later her life support machine was switched off.
Unaware at the time of Gane's campaign of abuse, the family struggled to comprehend why Kellie killed herself.
Pamela said: "She adored her kids. Why would she do that?"
Kellie's brother Steven Sutton, 32, a trainee engineer surveyor who lives with their mum, added: "She was not the type of girl to do that sort of thing. She wouldn't have hurt herself.
"She must have felt so scared. I think she saw her only way out was to end it herself. She got that low."
Days after Kellie died, Gane was arrested and then charged.
A friend of his had told detectives Gane had called him over the summer saying he had lost his temper and "bust Kellie's head open".
In another call after Kellie's death, Gane was making jokes about her suicide.
With Gane now behind bars, DI Sally Phillips of Hertfordshire Police said: "Kellie was unable to tell her story. However we were still able to prosecute Gane."
Seven months on, the family are still struggling to come to terms with their loss.
Pamela said: "I tell myself she is abroad. It's easier. I will probably never say she is gone.
"I still text her. I tell her what's going on, what I've been up to and what the kids have been up to.
"I know she doesn't get them but it makes me feel better.
"We have justice but he will probably be out in a few years.
"Kellie is gone for ever. I've lost a daughter. The children have lost a mum."
Now the family are speaking out to raise awareness of coercive control.
Steven said: "I never knew it existed until this happened.
"I want victims to know there is help out there. The law is on your side."
Pamela added: "I hope other women will read her story and get help.
"If it helps someone come forward, that's what matters."
Dr Jane Monckton-Smith, a forensic criminologist specialising in coercive control, said: "It's still somewhat untested in the courts and may not always enter the thoughts of investigators - it soon will.
"This case has established that it is possible."
This story originally appeared on The Sun and is republished with permission